> FRANKEL Music for the Movies [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Benjamin FRANKEL (1906-1973)
Music for the Movies

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
The Night of the Iguana (1964)
Trottie True (1949)
The Years Between (1946)
Footsteps in the Fog (1955)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Werner Andreas Albert
Recorded 2000, Studio 420, ABC, Brisbane, Australia.
CPO 999 809-2 [67.13]


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Benjamin Frankel, born in London in 1906, was a hugely prolific composer of film scores, and also produced a considerable number of concert works. He was fairly dismissive of the importance of film music himself, making the point that the music was of no value without the film. Listeners to this CD will make up their own minds as to this in respect of the music recorded here, but most would agree, I think, that it is a tragedy that the scores of so much of Frankel’s film work – and of other composers too – was discarded or lost once the original recording had taken place.

After the CPO recording of Frankel’s music for the film The Battle of the Bulge, this CD presents a selection taken from the rest of his film output. The front cover of the disc shows a reproduction of the poster of The Importance of Being Earnest complete with list of stars and Technicolor credits, but in fact only just over seven minutes of the disc are given over to music from this particular film, and the real title of the disc – see above – is marked on the booklet in small black lettering which doesn’t attract the eye at all. The music has been prepared for performance, and sometimes much more than that, by E. D. Kennaway who also wrote the excellent notes.

The music from the Wilde film is in fact a kind of medley based on scores found more or less by accident in the BBC Music Library. It’s good fun to listen to, and its frequently original and striking orchestral effects are a feature it shares with all the music on this disc. Whether it is interesting enough to make us want to listen to it very often is another matter.

The extract from the music for Curse of the Werewolf is a tiny, two minute Pastoral. It is described in the notes as "the only moment of light relief during a story of grim horror" and this may well be the case. All the same it is curiously haunting music, unquiet, its high violin lines doubled by flute (or possibly piccolo) very reminiscent of Shostakovich.

Kennaway describes the six extracts from the 1949 film Trottie True as "brimming with memorable, hummable tunes". You only have to listen to it to know what he means, but at the same time it really does depend on what you mean by memorable. To my mind this is most undemanding music with little or nothing in it to make me want to hear it again.

Another very short piece, from the film The Years Between, has far more character. It was a piano solo on the original soundtrack, played by Eileen Joyce, and published in that form. It is given here in a sensitive arrangement for strings by Kennaway.

Footsteps in the Fog is a British film from 1955 dealing with domestic murder, intrigue and plotting. The music is certainly striking in places, but desperately in need of the film for it to come to life. This is one of the scores which no longer existed, and Kennaway, in an extraordinary labour of love, repeatedly watched the film in order to transcribe the score for this recording.

The score of the music from The Night of the Iguana, on the other hand, has been preserved and is recorded here more or less in its entirety and with little editorial intervention. I think this is the most distinguished music on the disc, and certainly the most original, though the two short pieces are of considerable interest too. The themes are both immediately striking yet also repay repeated listening, and the instrumentation is marvellous, evoking in an extremely subtle way the Mexican setting. Unfortunately there is very little variety of mood in the ten short pieces of which it is made up, and listening to it as if it were a concert suite is unsatisfying for this reason.

Alas, this is also true of the whole disc, and is the main reason why I find it hard to recommend to anyone other than those who have an interest in film music and perhaps a particular interest in Frankel. I’ve already made reference to the booklet notes which both in content and layout are exactly what an issue of this kind needs, and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Werner Andreas Albert – who has recorded a lot of Frankel’s concert music for CPO – plays beautifully. The recorded sound is excellent.
William Hedley

See also review by Hubert Culot


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